This week there were two blows against rights for Russia’s LGBT community.
On December 3, Russia’s Constitutional Court published its October ruling dismissing a complaint by a gay rights activist, Nikolai Alexeyev, that challenged the constitutionality of a Saint Petersburg law banning “public actions, aimed at propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexualism, transgenderism among minors.” The Court held that the law protects children and doesn’t discriminate against LGBT people or violate Alexeyev’s constitutional rights because it “applies to all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation.”
Russian officials have used this argument before to ward off international criticism against Russia’s federal anti-LGBT “propaganda” law, which is similar to St. Petersburg’s and 10 other regional laws. Denying the discriminatory and disproportionate impact of this law on LGBT people doesn’t magically make it just, but this appears to be precisely the strategy Russian authorities – including the Constitutional Court – have chosen to defend this repressive legislation.
St. Petersburg has apparently used its law just once since it went into effect almost two years ago – against Alexeyev himself. On December 3, Alexeyev and another activist also became the first to be found liable by a court in the northern Russian town of Arkhangelsk under a similar federal “propaganda” law that applies across Russia. Their infraction? Standing next to a children’s library in Arkhangelsk, with a sign that said: “There’s no such thing as gay propaganda, you don't become gay, you're born gay." They were reportedly fined 4,000 rubles (US$120) each.
Despite the dearth of convictions under the regional and federal “propaganda” laws, authorities and anti-gay activists have invoked the laws to prevent or disrupt public protests for LGBT equality in St. Petersburg and elsewhere. The adoption of the laws has coincided with a sharp rise in the number of violent attacks during LGBT demonstrations.
The European Court of Human Rights is considering a complaint from Alexeyev about the St. Petersburg law (and a similar law in Arkhangelsk that has since been repealed), and has communicated a set of questions about them to the Russian government.
Russian authorities should stop making excuses for their anti-LGBT policies. Anti-gay “propaganda” laws are blatantly discriminatory and should be repealed, and LGBT people in Russia should be protected from the abuse these dangerous laws engender.